Worth Reading - 9/18

1. This piece is near gold. Seven habits of highly depolarizing people. It's worth a read and application.

In recent decades, we Americans have become highly practiced in the skills and mental habits of demonizing our political opponents. All our instruments agree that we currently do political polarization very well, and researchers tell us that we’re getting better at it all the time.
For example, Stanford Professor Shanto Iyengar and his colleagues recently found that, when it comes both to trusting other people with your money and evaluating the scholarship applications of high school seniors, Americans today are less friendly to people in the other political party than we are to people of a different race. The researchers conclude that “Americans increasingly dislike people and groups on the other side of the political divide and face no social repercussions for the open expression of these attitudes.” As a result, today “the level of partisan animus in the American public exceeds racial animus.”1 That’s saying something!
But if polarization is all around us, familiar as an old coat, what about its opposite? What would depolarization look and sound like? Would we know it if we saw it, in others or in ourselves? Perhaps most importantly, what are the mental habits that encourage it?
We’re confronted with an irony here. We Americans didn’t necessarily think our way into political polarization, but we’ll likely have to think our way out. A number of big structural and social trends—including the end of the Cold War, the rising importance of cultural issues in our politics, growing secularization, greater racial and ethnic diversity, the shift from the Greatest Generation to Baby Boomers as the nation’s dominant elites, the break-up of the old media system, the increasing ideological coherence of both of our two main political parties, among others—appear to have helped produce our current predicament.

2. Missionary Nik Ripken writes to ask what is wrong with Western missionaries.

We had already learned how important it was to listen. So we set aside time to listen to the believing culture inside a Muslim country, in rural and urban locations, among both young and old, both men and women, and those literate as well as oral communicators. They told us how they had heard of Jesus and his Bible for the first time. We were startled to discover that their experience was quite different from the experiences of most of the rest of the believing world.
In our earlier travels, we had learned that much persecution originates within governments and institutions of power. In the U.S.S.R. and China persecution was institutionalized. Persecutors were typically somewhere “out there,” and they employed means to find, punish, incarcerate, and kill believers.

3. PBS covers a school that has converted its football stadium into an organic garden. The students can work off their tuition by working in the garden.

HARI SREENIVASAN: He turned the football field into an organic farm that generates more than 20,000 pounds of organic vegetables every year, veggies that make it into high-end restaurants and into the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium.
MICHAEL SORRELL: I think this has saved our school. It saved it because it changed the narrative of the institution.

4. The story of a man who rejected Christianity, but came to recognize that his rejection of a version of Christianity was based on very Christian grounds.

“We preach Christ crucified,” St Paul declared, “unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness.” He was right. Nothing could have run more counter to the most profoundly held assumptions of Paul’s contemporaries – Jews, or Greeks, or Romans. The notion that a god might have suffered torture and death on a cross was so shocking as to appear repulsive. Familiarity with the biblical narrative of the Crucifixion has dulled our sense of just how completely novel a deity Christ was. In the ancient world, it was the role of gods who laid claim to ruling the universe to uphold its order by inflicting punishment – not to suffer it themselves.
Today, even as belief in God fades across the West, the countries that were once collectively known as Christendom continue to bear the stamp of the two-millennia-old revolution that Christianity represents. It is the principal reason why, by and large, most of us who live in post-Christian societies still take for granted that it is nobler to suffer than to inflict suffering. It is why we generally assume that every human life is of equal value. In my morals and ethics, I have learned to accept that I am not Greek or Roman at all, but thoroughly and proudly Christian.

5. Roald Dahl is a famous children's author, but there is a dark side in his writing and his life. This is an interesting and honest tribute from the BBC.

Maria Nikolajeva, professor of children's literature at the University of Cambridge, disputes the notion that there is any darkness in Dahl’s books for younger readers. “He is one of the most colourful and light-hearted children's writers”, she insists. But for all the funniness and dazzling linguistic acrobatics of his prose, she acknowledges that there are problems with his vision. Consider Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
“Wonka is vegetarian and only eats healthy food, but he seduces children with sweets. It's highly immoral”, she says. And then there’s The Witches, whose child narrator, having been turned into a mouse, decides against returning to his human form because he dreads outliving his beloved grandmother. He’d rather die with her, as his abbreviated rodent lifespan will guarantee. “This is a denial of growing up and mortality, but mortality is one of the aspects that makes us human”, Nikolajeva points out. “To tell young readers that you can escape growing up by dying is dubious  – drawn to the utmost an encouragement of suicide – and therefore both an ideological and an aesthetic flaw”.

Worth Reading - 3/30

1. Nicholas Kristof defends evangelical Christians in this weekend's New York Times:

Today, among urban Americans and Europeans, “evangelical Christian” is sometimes a synonym for “rube.” In liberal circles, evangelicals constitute one of the few groups that it’s safe to mock openly.

Yet the liberal caricature of evangelicals is incomplete and unfair. I have little in common, politically or theologically, with evangelicals or, while I’m at it, conservative Roman Catholics. But I’ve been truly awed by those I’ve seen in so many remote places, combating illiteracy and warlords, famine and disease, humbly struggling to do the Lord’s work as they see it, and it is offensive to see good people derided.

2. Aaron Earls takes a more detailed look at the hyperventilation over boycotting Indiana for protecting religious freedom. Here is a helpful analysis of what the RFRA bill actually entails and what you will have to do to be consistent if you decide to boycott Indiana:

After Indiana governor Mike Pence signed a state-level Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), many people are calling for a boycott.

The NCAA, headquartered in Indianapolis, is “concerned” about the ramifications. The NFL is “studying” the bill. Other groups have already decided it’s time for a all out boycott of the entire state. But they might want to reconsider that response.

While I understand the desire to be passionate about your closely held beliefs (ironic since that’s what the RFRA is designed to protect), a boycott of Indiana will not be enough. In order to be consistent, protestors will have to stretch that boycott far beyond the Hoosier state.

Currently, 19 states, including Indiana, have passed RFRA laws (AL, CT, FL, ID, IN, IL, KS, KY, LA, MO, MS, NM, OK, PA, RI, SC, TN, TX, and VA). Seeing Texas on the list, is the NFL planning on taking the Super Bowl away from Houston in 2017?

In addition, there are 10 other states where courts have interpreted their laws to provide the same type of religious protections (AK, MA, ME, MI, MN, MT, NC, OH, WA, and WI). If they want to be consistent, I guess the NCAA has to be “concerned” about the 2019 Final Four in Minneapolis.

3. The lament of a parent and educator over the process of education as it now stands:

My seventeen-year-old son has just completed fifteen examinations in the course of two weeks. They varied in length – some in excess of three hours, with a half hour break before the next exam – and we are still feeling the fallout from this veritable onslaught. These were not ‘the real exams’ – the ones that ‘counted’ – the ones that will help to discriminate between the sheep and the goats, who gets into university (and which ones of course), and who will be left outside the doors. Theoretically, then, the pressure on him should not have been so very great, at least not as pronounced as it will be a few months from now.

Not only as a mother, but as an educator, I cannot help but wonder about this process. Looking at my son, increasingly silent and exhausted, it is hard not to feel that formal education – at least at this particular juncture in his life – is anything but a stimulus to thinking in a deep and creative way about the world around him. As a young child he was nick-named ‘What if’, always posing questions about how the world might be transformed. It will be a miracle if that sense of curiosity and wonder is not beaten out of him by the time he graduates.

4. How not to read the Bible if you want to remain a Christian. An interaction with John Dominic Crossan's recent book.

The God of the Christian Bible is a God of perfection. A God who deals with sin in the crucifixion of Christ since we could not bear the weight of his law ourselves. As Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, he came not to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. On the cross, Jesus experienced the retributive justice of God on behalf of his people. God’s wrath was poured out on Christ, and the resurrection proves that he satisfied that wrath. Christians look forward to God’s restoration of his creation, the day when all things will be perfect again.

Crossan doesn’t have any faith that God will restore things. It’s up to us. Crossan says in an interview, “We invent a Second Coming because we cannot tolerate the first one, which is the only one.” In Crossan’s understanding of the Incarnation, Jesus came to tell us to share and to avoid violence, and it’s up to us to follow his advice. Jesus the Messiah becomes Jesus the kindergarten teacher. Crossan thinks this message of nonviolence is so urgent because now we have nuclear weapons, and he suggests that some fool fundamentalist will use these nukes to bring about the Apocalypse. But this won’t be a Biblical apocalypse of judgment that ends in restoration. It’s just the end of evolution. It’s somewhat amusing to see that Crossan hasn’t outgrown his generation’s fear of nuclear winter.

Worth Reading - 3/19

1. Instead of trying to inject meaning into our work, we should look for the meaning that is already there:

The beautiful paradox of the Christian life is that even when we find ourselves in “cog-like” work environments, God has oriented our hands toward both material provision and blessing as well as transcendent purpose and beauty — the stuff of “cathedrals” what-have-you. “Happily, a genuine cog is a round peg in a round hole, fitted precisely to being what, at that point, the mosaic of culture requires,” DeKoster writes elsewhere. “There alone resides our freedom to enjoy civilized life.”

As we continue to be bombarded by various forms of “meaning marketing” and the sloganeering of forward-thinking executives, let’s indulge what turns out to be true, but be careful to not inject our own version of “meaning” where the authentic purpose already exists.

God put it there for a reason.

2. How to handle rejection in writing, in this case Academic writing:

Recently I wrote an odd sort of thank-you note.
It was to a journal editor who had rejected one of my articles. The careful critique he had provided helped me reconceptualize my argument and revise the article into acceptance with a different journal (you can read this ‘revised’ article in the recent Journal of Religious History volume 39:1, March 2015). So I sent him a quick email of thanks for his constructive comments.

Of course, at the moment of rejection, my thoughts were not as benevolent. I was angry, confused, and embarrassed as a scholar. Indeed, one rejection so immobilized me as a young scholar that I deep-sixed my first rejected article and still have not resurrected it into a new submission. Time (and the accumulation of more rejections) has changed my perspective on how to deal with this unpleasant, but necessary component of the academic life.

3. Some advice for young men on maturing from Desiring God:

Younger men, you do need guidance from older men. At the same time, the myth that the older generation has it all together must be erased. We don’t. We are learning and growing in many of the same ways young men are.

God has taught older men a number of things, though — through our strengths and weaknesses, through our successes and failures — that he may have intended for you. There is counsel that can ground you in the midst of life’s turbulence (inside of you and around you) and equip you to become more mature in Christ (Colossians 1:28).
What do your days look like? How do they begin, and how do they end?

If you’re anything like me, my days look pretty ordinary.

They are filled with instant oatmeal in the morning as I scurry out the door, somehow always forgetting my laptop charger, as I begin my half-an-hour commute to the office, where I work diligently until about 5 o’clock, when I then rush home to participate, if I’m lucky, in some brief form of exercise, cook a quick meal for dinner, and then face the loads of laundry and mounds of house chores and rent bills that seem to never end.

Ordinary life and ordinary time are what some may call my “bread-and-butter.” How, though, can these rhythms of ordinary living be nourishingly sweet and even glorious?

5. An excerpt from Martyn Lloyd-Jones on not tracking our successes:

There is no need to waste time keeping the accounts; he is keeping them. And what wonderful accounts they are. May I say it with reverence, there is nothing I know of that is so romantic as God’s method of accountancy. Be prepared for surprises in this kingdom. You never know what is going to happen. The last shall be first. What a complete reversal of our materialistic outlook, the last first, the first last, everything upside down. The whole world is turned upside down by grace. It is not of man, it is of God; it is the kingdom of God.

Worth Reading - 2/17

1. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary polled their faculty to find the most common recommendations for books to read before coming to seminary:

Seminary is (or should be) a time of intense study, filled with lots of interesting reading. Yet, in order for seminary students to make the most of their time, they ought to have a good grasp of the academic and, especially, spiritual skills and disciplines required to succeed in seminary.

2. From the Atlantic, a tough, but significant read about what ISIS really wants:

What is the Islamic State?

Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
I am grateful for my encounters with Richard John Neuhaus. From him, we can learn the value of reading widely and leveraging that knowledge in an appropriate manner in the public square. We can learn to build coalitions and communities that sustain and enhance our cultural engagement. We are reminded by Neuhaus to avoid the twin errors of naked public squares, on the one hand, and theocracies, on the other. We remember, and learn from, his warm and gracious interaction with ordinary people. In short, Neuhaus’ life and writings remind us of the value of cultivating a public theology and of raising up public theologians who can speak and act in the public square for the common good.

4. The Gospel Coalition considers whether language makes humans unique:

So what does language have to do with the Christian doctrine of the imago Dei? Quite a lot, as it turns out. Scripture never provides an explicit definition of the image of God, but it does provide a number of contextual clues. In Genesis 1-2, we read that humans are created in the context of a covenant. Broadly defined, a covenant is a solemn relationship between two parties, with mutual promises and obligations. Other elements of a covenant often include a historical prologue and threats for covenantal breach. In all of these respects, a covenant relationship requires language. Language is what enables us to recount history, make commands, offer promises, issue threats, and so forth. Further, the ability to reflect on the covenant relationship itself requires the capacity for recursive thought. If image-bearing implies a covenant relationship, and if a covenant relationship requires language, then we must conclude that language is an essential part of our identity as human beings.

5. Smithsonian Magazine seeks to explain why footbinding lasted so long in China:

Foot-binding is said to have been inspired by a tenth-century court dancer named Yao Niang who bound her feet into the shape of a new moon. She entranced Emperor Li Yu by dancing on her toes inside a six-foot golden lotus festooned with ribbons and precious stones. In addition to altering the shape of the foot, the practice also produced a particular sort of gait that relied on the thigh and buttock muscles for support. From the start, foot-binding was imbued with erotic overtones. Gradually, other court ladies—with money, time and a void to fill—took up foot-binding, making it a status symbol among the elite.

Worth Reading - 2/9

1. Energy Efficiency measures have improved significantly in recent years, such that in some cases, investing in improved efficiency measures may be economically worth it in the short term:

The idea that money is available for the taking defies economic logic. But sometimes it’s true. That’s the case with a vast opportunity that’s routinely overlooked by institutions across the country — from universities to hospitals, companies to governments.

The opportunity is investing in energy efficiency. “The returns are tremendous, and there’s virtually no risk,” said Mark Orlowski, the founder and executive director of the Sustainable Endowments Institute, an organization that is building a network to advance research, education and practical tools to help institutions, primarily universities and colleges, make investments that mitigate climate change.

2. A pretty cool story from CNN about a Target employee giving assistance to a young job-seeker. This is from the North Raleigh area, not too far from my home:

Turns out, talking to strangers is not so bad after all.

At least for a North Carolina teen, who went to Target to look for a clip-on tie for a job interview. Instead, he became the subject of a touching moment and a viral photo.

Audrey Mark told CNN affiliate WTVD she was shopping at a store in Raleigh on Wednesday when she noticed something unusual.

”I see this young teen being hovered over by this Target employee,” Mark said.

Curious, she got closer to see what was going on. The employee was not just tying the teen’s tie, he was imparting some wisdom as well.
Works righteousness is a form of self-righteousness that believes that our salvation can be earned and/or sustained by doing good works. It says we can make ourselves righteous before God by our obedience.

This is epitomized in the New Testament by the Pharisees for whom Jesus reserved his harshest criticism, calling them whitewashed tombs and hypocrites.

The Bible makes it clear that salvation comes through unmerited grace. It does not come because of our works, but because of the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf.

4. Aaron Earls at Facts and Trends shares five ways to teach your kids theology:

Teaching your kids math can feel daunting. But teaching your kids theology can feel downright terrifying.

Some parents feel overwhelmed with a lack of time. They just don’t see how they can fit something else into their day. Others may not feel as if they have adequate theological training. They don’t feel comfortable going much beyond, “Jesus loves you.”

So how can you weave theological teaching into their daily lives, without necessarily setting them down for an in-depth family sermon (though there is nothing wrong with that)? How can you impart good theology into the lives of your children, without possessing a theological degree?

You don’t need to feel like you’re trying out the latest parenting fad or complicated system. Instead, here are five simple ways to teach your kids theology virtually every day.
How could this happen? I was 22 years old and the epitome of health. I was a competitive dancer and avid runner. People like me do not get brain tumors, or so I thought. When you are young, you tend to think you are invincible. Yet I was given the gift of a life shattered for my good and God’s glory. In trial our dreams sometimes die. Then we are forced to consider what really matters and what is really important.

After I ingested all the information of my predicament, we decided to go into a six-month waiting period. The tumor was in a place that was not ideal for a successful operation. We decided to wait six months and see what happened.

Saturday Links - 11/29/2014

1. Given C. S. Lewis' popularity, it is easy to forget some of the places his ideas were out of step with contemporary evangelicalism.

2. Are political progressives mistaken in believing the mid-term elections were not really about their policies?

3. Dan Darling from the ERLC comments on making gratitude our first language.

4. Nathan Finn reviews a new book by Jamin Goggin and Kyle Stroble, Beloved Dust, which emphasizes spiritual disciples. Worth a look.

5. In honor of your weekend Christmas decorating efforts, here is Clark Griswold lighting his Christmas lights.